Serum levels of liver enzymes, such as alanine transaminase, aspartate transaminase, and α-fetoprotein, provide insight into liver function and are used during treatment of liver disease, but such information is limited. In the case of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), which is often not detected until an advanced stage, more sensitive biomarkers may help to achieve earlier detection. Serum also contains microRNAs, a class of small non-coding RNAs that play an important role in regulating gene expression. miR-122 is specific to the liver and correlates strongly with liver enzyme levels and necroinflammatory activity, and other microRNAs are correlated with the degree of fibrosis. miR-122 has also been found to be required for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, whereas other microRNAs have been shown to play antiviral roles. miR-125a-5p and miR-1231 have been shown to directly target hepatitis B virus (HBV) transcripts, and others are up- or down-regulated in infected individuals. MicroRNA profiles also differ in the case of HBV and HCV infection as well as between HBeAg-positive and negative patients, and in patients with occult versus
active HBV infection. In such patients, monitoring of changes in microRNA profiles might provide earlier warning of neoplastic changes preceding HCC.
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